|The Return Part 2 |
It was the day after the Festival of Lights. The sun shined high over head, beaming distinguishable hues of purple and orange through the waves of Darklight clouds and auroras. The crowds that strolled from stall to stall and the sheer exhilaration and happiness from the previous night that once emanated in steady pulses from the grounds had been reduced to a quiet, trashy mess. Candy wrappers and forgotten masks lay strewn on the soft dirt, trodden by dozens of stomping feet. The strings of heavy lanterns sagged sadly, like the decorations understood they fulfilled their purpose and they were to be put up until the following year.
The clean up crew consisted of many more settlers than previous festivals. Usually the professor, Kouren, Veles, and Callie voluntarily handled the final, messy work. The four did not mind it, as they saw it more as a social outing and a formal end to the Festival of Lights, than as nasty labor. “How are y’all coming along over there?” Kouren hollered, leading to a chain of “Almost!” and “Getting there!” Kouren’s booming voice easily stretched to the end of Settlement One; her whispers could quite possibly be heard all the way in Harena, some settlers speculate.
More people pitched in not particularly because there was a larger workload (in fact, Professor Ng could recall times that called for more work, with significantly less helpers), but for the welcoming home of a valued member of the community. Veles was allowed to return to his place in the Armoury, after a couple months of care by a team of Hiekkan nurses. The lively blacksmith had actually insisted on returning the week after his concussion, but obviously was turned down. The travel would have been too much for his wounds at the time.
So, Professor Ng had gathered up a much more diverse team to make not only clean the festival grounds, but the rest of the settlement as well.They had to be swift, too, because a mini celebration was to be had by the Armoury. Kouren said she would bring cakes, and would try her best to imitate the old lady’s tasty festival dishes, and the others planned to decorate the area with streamers and balloons. Veles was scheduled to return later that night, with Azaz.
A couple hours passed, and everyone had completed their work –Settlement One, complete with the revelry area, had been cleaned. And not too soon afterwards the new party, with the props and food and a massive welcoming sign, was set up and they all took their places. The idea was that as soon as Veles was close enough, they would all jump and yell “Surprise!” Kouren asked, only to her dismay, if afterwards they could shout, “Don’t fret! Eat a baguette!”
It did not take long for the colonizers to notice Azaz’s flickering torch exiting the forest, and before they knew it Veles was approaching the Armoury. “It is odd that everyone is in their beds. It hasn’t been dark for long,” Veles noted under his breath. All the way back from Harena, Azaz had been acting strangely and appeared jittery and anxious.It did not take the weapons master long to realize that something was planned for his arrival; he only needed to appear oblivious to the scheme.
Kouren was the first to jump, and she did so too soon. “Surprise!” She shouted. And, turning her head to face the sighs and grumbles behind her, she shot, “If y’all had waited any longer, he would’ve started to think he happened onto the wrong camp!”
“SURPRISE!” The rest of the group hollered as they appeared from behind tables, chairs, and bushes. It did not take them long to switch on the lights and serve the sweet and salty treats.
“Veles, it’s good to see you back,” Professor Ng declared, putting her arms around the Hiekkan. In truth, it had not been long since she visited him in the nurse’s station, but even so it felt to her like a year. “We cleaned up the place for you, but everything else in the Armoury is exactly as you left it.”
Amidst the shouting and snickering coming from the celebration, Veles responded, “I’m sincerely grateful for all the help you offered me back there. All of this,” he opened his arms, gesturing towarrd the party,“This is great and makes me happy, but nothing can match what you did for me in Harena.” Stopping to clear his throat, he continued: “That’s enough of being sappy. I can’t tell you how excited I am to polish some blades again.”
Ng beamed and gave her friend a pat on the back. “Well before you go,you should at least try some of Kouren’s food. She would never let you live it down, if you didn’t.”“I suppose you’re right.” Veles winked and walked to the food bar.
Meanwhile, Callie pulled Ng behind one of the houses, faintly muttering,“Got a second?” so quick Ng could not answer in time. Even in the faintly-lit night, Callie’s yellow eyes shined bright, and her raven hair fell free in tufts over her shoulders. “I know something more about that tablet.” She went on to explain that Ligha, the young bugcollector in Risa, told of the Nature Spirits, of how they were the oldest beings on Cruithne, and how she happened to discover Sparkle-licked Spring around which the eldest of the spirits gathered. But a special barrier guarded it from any traveler wishing it harm. After days of pleading Alethea to allow her to visit the spring, Callie was finally escorted.
“I spoke with the Spirit Elder, Gwilym, about the Zucarrum attack and more importantly about the tablet. But…” Callie voice grew thin, “He calls upon you to Sparkle-licked Spring. He only would tell me so much,and required he speak with you further.
“What did he tell you?”
And so Callie enlightened Ng on the late Queen Edrea, who presided over the galaxy. And that right before her death, she stored her remaining power in her three most cherished possessions: a seer’s orb, her crown,and lastly an hourglass. “But that’s all he would allow me to know,”stated Callie. “To understand the rest, you have to visit him.”
“Finally,” Ng thought. “Progress is being made!” For many months she had been tearing through all of her research and probing her memory in a desperate effort to get more information. And perhaps now the fragments would start to make sense! But she still had Veles’ party…
“He will understand, Agatha, if it means getting to the bottom of that Zucarrum attack.”
Professor Ng agreed that she would travel with her to the spring the next morning, as the exhaustion of everything had taken a toll on her.She also did not want to miss the party she planned.
So after all, much was to be gained from the Festival of Lights. Ng was able to rest assured that when she would leave on her trip the next day that the settlement would be protected by the creatures in the eggs. The fact that the eggs would be hatching real soon in the incubators made her sleep that much more comfortably. For the first time since she started her exploration into the tablet, Agatha Ng was not plagued by unyielding nightmares; she truly believed that things were finally looking positive.